Sister Mary Virginia, A.P.B.
By Katie Fiermonti, Photography by Charlene Graham
Sister Mary Virginia, A.P.B., sits quietly in the visiting room of the Sisters Adorers of the Precious Blood Monastery. A sign that reads, “Sitio,” meaning “I thirst” hangs above the door. A wooden grate separates Sister Mary Virginia from her visitors, but does nothing to hide the joy radiating from the kind eyes that gaze from under her red and white habit. Around her neck she wears a cross that opens to reveal relics from Saint Peter’s tomb, a bit of palm, and other religious sacramentals.
“They help keep me ‘tuned in,’” she says with a smile. Sister Mary Virginia lives as a cloistered nun in an order dedicated to contemplation and prayer on behalf of the world’s populace. The sisters follow the teachings of foundress Reverend Mother Catherine Aurelia of Canada, faithfully living the example she set forth in the mid 1800s. Today, Sister Mary Virginia is one of 23 women living in Manchester’s imposing monastery set on a hilltop. She says she is called every day to be a consecrated vessel of and for God’s love.
The Newark, New York, native always felt a strong connection to the church. She grew up in a Catholic family, attended school with the Sisters of Mercy, and says she knew by the time she finished third grade that she would be “the next Little Flower.” Her faith only deepened as a young adult, when she was called to care for a dying friend.
“Nothing else seemed to matter but faith,” she says. “I can’t explain it. It was a gift. After college I went into social work, but I was always trying to get out of work so I could go pray. I had a number of priests suggest convent life, and I decided to go on a pilgrimage. I remember crying on the shoulder of a statue of the Blessed Mother, and I looked over and saw a magazine with an ad for Manchester’s Sisters Adorers of the Precious Blood.”
Sister Mary Virginia entered the monastery in 1994, and says she immediately felt welcome, and was able to fully embrace her contemplative path. “My life is a consecrated vessel, a chalice. That’s the image of consecrated life. It’s purposeful for the mission and only for the mission. We are called to be that. It’s a deepening of my baptismal commitment.” Her daily activities include personal and group prayer along with the various duties required of the sisters. She lives as a spouse to Jesus and as a living tabernacle of the Precious Blood, her red habit a vivid reminder of her life’s choice. “We live our life faithfully,” she says. “That’s how we prove our love.
“The grate that we live behind is a reminder of the type of consecration we have been chosen for, to set us apart to help us make our choice more correctly,” she explains. “This reminds us that our place is here, for prayer. It’s our community. It’s where we’ll be blessed and fed. And it’s a reminder of hope for those who come here, that we’re praying for them.”
Sister Mary Virginia hopes women interested in learning more about her order will contact her. “Call me! Ask me! We hope to be mentors,” she says. “Never be afraid to talk to someone. You need to be encouraged to live the grace you have inside. Once you says ‘yes,’ you get a hundredfold back. In our faith, everything makes sense.”
For more information on Sisters Adorers of the Precious Blood, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.